CROWN POINT — "Are they getting enough food?"
The question crossed Bonnie Meyer's mind one summer day in 2017, when she was thinking of Crown Point students who receive free or reduced lunch during the school year.
The question perplexed Meyer, who is the director of outreach missions at First United Methodist Church in Crown Point.
At first, she thought the answer was simple: start a summer feeding program. But the logistics didn't quite work out.
Nearly three years later, however, Meyer has found a way to feed more than 300 Crown Point students from four different schools.
Here's how she did it.
Starting the program
Meyer took inspiration from her friend, Jeff Newton, who is the executive director of Kokomo Urban Outreach in Kokomo, Indiana.
Newton had recently started a Buddy Bags program, providing children with six meals to take home over the weekend.
In September 2017, Meyer started the program at First United Methodist with 136 Douglas MacArthur Elementary students.
"It just took off," she said with a chuckle. "It garnered support almost immediately."
By spring 2018, the program added 80 Timothy Ball Elementary students.
A year later, the program began serving 50 students from Robert A. Taft Middle School. At the time, Meyer said, 100 students were receiving free and reduced lunch, but the program didn't have the means to service each student.
However, grants from the Legacy Foundation, the Crown Point Community Foundation and Methodist foundations, coupled with fundraisers and private donations, the church was able to take on the other 50 students.
Currently, the program supports 80 Taft students.
Feeding the community
When the 2019-2020 school year began, Meyer said she was contacted by Lake Street Elementary. They had 37 students to add to the list.
"If God brings you to, God will bring you through it," Meyer said.
According to 2019-2020 Indiana Department of Education data, 1 in 5 students in the Crown Point Community School Corp. receive free or reduced lunch.
Those numbers ring true for individual schools within the district, too. Around 1 in 5 students receive lunch assistance at Taft and Wheeler. At MacArthur, Timothy Ball and Solon Robinson Elementary, 1 in 3 students receive assistance.
Meyer, who has five siblings, recalls growing up poor in Crown Point.
"There are so many people, not just in our area, but our entire country that are living paycheck to paycheck," she said. "(They are) one illness, one car repair, one car accident away from financial demise."
Even in Crown Point, where the median household income is $77,537, according to census data, there's still a need for programs like Buddy Bags, Meyer said.
"It does reach the point of aggravation sometime when people just don't believe that there's a need, when it's so obvious to me that there is and to the schools," Meyer said. "They will tell you they know how these kids are struggling.
A kid that comes in hungry on Monday morning ... it's going to take them a couple of days of free lunch and free breakfast to get back up to speed. So every week they're losing two days."
Meyer said she is hoping to launch a 9-week-long summer feeding program this year that would provide students with a small bag of groceries once a week. There would be seven pick-up locations, she added.
"We're trying our best to fill as many bellies as we can," Meyer said.
Meyer, who was preparing for a mission trip when she chatted with The Times, showed us her "little operation," where all the food for Buddy Bags is packed and stored.
Each weekend Buddy Bag includes six meals — two for breakfast, two for lunch and two for dinner. The summer bags would provide a week's worth of food for a family of four to six. Meyer said the group also tries to include a fun item for the kids in the bag, too. And every Buddy Bag includes an inspirational quote.
"This is one of our efforts to be the hands and feet of Christ," Meyer said of the program. "He gave us two commandments, really: love God and love others."